The Talk: The Washington Tea Party
July 29, 2012
Chip Lebovitz: With less than a week to the August 2nd default deadline, both Congress and the president have still failed to pass a debt ceiling increase. The failure is due, in part, to the extremely divided Republican caucus split between a Tea Party faction opposed to nearly any debt ceiling increase and a mainstream element supportive of a spending cut only increase. Ross, what’s piqued your interest most about the recent GOP dynamic?
Ross Freiman-Mendel: Speaker Boehner is really stuck between a rock and a hard place. He must find a solution that stands a chance against two ideologically intransigent caucuses. It’s certainly harder to govern in the majority.
Chip Lebovitz: It’s nice of you to admit to the Republican caucus’ intransigency, though I’m not so sure that’s a fair characterization of Democrats. Without the Tea Party movement, Speaker Boehner would’ve already passed a grand bargain with President Obama and Congressional Democrats that would have reduced our deficit by $4 trillion and seriously reformed entitlements, weakening Obama on his left flank for the 2012 elections. Instead, Speaker Boehner and the Republican establishment are forced to deal with an insurgent element of their caucus that is willing to sacrifice political victory in order to achieve an impossible goal – a balanced budget amendment.
Ross Freiman-Mendel: That’s a bit harsh. The Tea Party caucus is rightly forcing Boehner, Senate Democrats, and Obama to acknowledge the referendum that propelled the GOP to big gains during the midterm elections. I think it’s fairer to say that the Obama administration has been disingenuous during these talks.
Chip Lebovitz: Disingenuous is ignoring a phone call from the president of the U.S for nearly 24 hours like Boehner did during debt ceiling negotiations last week. Arguments against Obama focus squarely on his lack of a concrete plan – an unfair statement due to the nature of the talks. To paraphrase Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer (a future ChrossTalk guest), the Tea Party is pushing for too much. They assume that Republican control of half a branch of government gives them free reign over the entire system and have prevented House Republicans from accepting a grand bargain that would have shored up two Republican weaknesses in the 2012 general elections: a need for bipartisan cover on entitlement reform and their weak poll numbers on the economy.
Ross Freiman-Mendel: To paraphrase Krauthammer again, disingenuous is more accurately scolding Congress for not dealing with a problem the president had not dealt with for the first two years of his presidency. The grand bargain was anything but a panacea. Why can’t the Tea Party hold certain ideological standards, when the President and Congress passed major legislation for two years with little to sometimes no Republican support? Just look to Obamacare for example.
Chip Lebovitz: Defending the Tea Party by attacking the President just highlights that party’s flaws; problems that Speaker Boehner is facing right now with a Tea Party revolt threatening his new deficit plan. The fact that the Tea Party has to stay on the offensive shows the lack of substance they have to defend. Comparing the right to govern between Tea Party control of a quarter of a branch of government and past Democratic control of two branches is illogical.
Ross Freiman-Mendel: Any elected official has the right to represent the will of his constituency: the amount of government one party controls does not equate to one’s “right to govern.” For example, the untenable nature of Cut, Cap, and Balance to Democrats does not disqualify its merits or substance, as we debated last week. But it seems a moot point, because Boehner has shored up enough votes to pass his plan. Faced with a potential default, will Senate Democrats accept it?
Chip Lebovitz: The untenable nature of Cut, Cap, and Balance happens to be caused by its merits or lack thereof. But you might want to catch up on your reading, as of this morning, Speaker Boehner still does not have the votes and Senate Democrats will not accept his solution. The more relevant question is, what are the effects on the movement’s presence in the 2012 elections due to this Tea Party debt ceiling insurrection? With Tea Party event participation down 50 percent this year and their policies representing a small sliver of the electorate, is it really wise for GOP candidates to appeal directly to the Tea Party and risk alienating the independents that decide most modern presidential campaigns?
Ross Freiman-Mendel: As with all movements, popularity wanes when reality sets in — shellackings like the one the president received in the midterms are to be expected. After cajoling, Speaker Boehner has most freshman Tea Party members on board with his plan and another chance today to pass his plan. If anything, the Tea Party forced debate when the president initially wanted a raise without cuts.
Chip Lebovitz: The Tea Party zeitgeist has forced the debate far more to the right than what the president and the public wanted, but at the same time they may also force America to default – an economic shellacking no rational person expects or frankly deserves.
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